Implementing Open Data Strategies for Climate Action: Suggestions And Lessons Learned for Government and Civil Society Stakeholders
Shared data and information are fundamental to mainstreaming climate action and promoting a coordinated and coherent response to climate change across government and society. Open data—the publication of datasets that can be freely used and redistributed by anyone, anywhere—offers opportunities to ensure climate policymaking is informed by all relevant data while building trust with civil society and enabling data users to create valuable tools and visualizations that can broaden impact and engage new audiences.
This working paper aims to promote greater accessibility of climate-related data by building government officials’ and other stakeholders’ understanding of the benefits of open data practices for climate action, potential challenges, and ways to address these challenges while taking steps to ensure that data publication is impactful, responsible, and sustainable. It draws on a literature review, expert consultations, and observations from pilot projects implemented in Chile and Uruguay to provide insights for contexts with a range of data capacities, from those with mature data collection and publication protocols to those investing in new data generation processes.
Promoting greater accessibility to climate-related data through open data can hold multiple benefits for climate policymaking and action, including:
- Improved data coordination and quality: Open data can shed light on heterogeneous use of standards and duplicative investments in data products. It makes the process of data access more efficient and allows users to validate data through practical applications and provide feedback. Example: In Chile, the Center for Climate and Resilience Research (Centro de Ciencia del Clima y la Resiliencia; CR2) uses available open data to build nationally-relevant climate models and a platform for easy data access—so easy and reliable that even officials from data-producing agencies use it (FIMA 2020).
- Informed decision-making: Open data can help improve the use of data for decision-making by reducing fragmentation, building users’ awareness of available data, and facilitating the integration of data from various sources. Example: The platform Aclímate Colombia integrates data from several sources, including open government datasets, to help farmers understand and adapt to changing weather patterns (Young and Verhulst 2017). It has enabled research institutes and farmers’ associations to make better recommendations regarding planting dates, crop varieties, and other farm practices (Pineda 2017).
- Greater coordination and novel partnerships: Open data initiatives can be an effective strategy to build trust between actors and foster new collaborations through data applications. Example: In the aftermath of the 2016 Aceh earthquake in Indonesia, scientists, local and national government officials, and communities collaborated through the InaSAFE open data platform to identify risks to communities and infrastructure. The shared data and knowledge then equipped disaster managers to better prioritize response and recovery efforts (World Bank 2018).
- Democratizing modeling approaches: Open data can help make climate modeling more transparent, accessible, and context-specific by increasing access to local and national data that can be used to downscale regional or global models. Example: In the workshops, Uruguayan government officials reported that generating more observation data on the national ocean territory and making that data accessible in open data format would help calibrate global climate models to the national context.
- Enhanced monitoring of policies and programs: By improving accessibility, open data makes it possible for citizens to engage in formal and informal monitoring processes in an evidence-based manner. Open data practices also facilitate the development of indicators to monitor climate actions, while enabling greater accountability of the analysis used to substantiate policy proposals. On national and global stages, these initiatives can further strengthen governments’ reporting frameworks under the Paris Agreement by improving mechanisms for knowledge and data sharing across agencies. Example: In Spain, the Futuro en Común coalition used multiple open datasets to review the government’s progress toward attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 13 on climate action.
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In recent years, the urgency and sheer scale of climate impacts have made clear the need for similarly urgent and ambitious solutions—solutions that will only be feasible with the inclusion of actors across government and society. The cross-cutting nature of the challenge, as well as evolving policy processes at international and national levels, call for action from line ministries to local governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia. Improving the availability and accessibility of climate-related data and information across this range of actors, therefore, is necessary to orchestrating a whole-of-society response to climate change.
Often, however, climate-related data is incomplete, fragmented across agencies, or not made available in formats that facilitate its comprehension and reuse, resulting in redundancies and limited value for decision-making. In this context, open data emerges as a promising approach to improve data accessibility and connect data with the ecosystem of users who need them.
Advocating for the adoption and implementation of open data policies falls under a broader struggle for transparency—free access to quality information that is relevant for understanding and participating in decisions that are in the public interest. Transparency has long been a mechanism of environmental regulation (e.g., through environmental impact assessments and disclosure of toxic chemical release). It also features prominently in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement to facilitate clarity when communicating and reporting progress.
The strengthened attention to climate action transparency sparked by the Paris Agreement, along with governments’ efforts to digitalize assets and services, has spurred new opportunities to improve climate data access and use across a broad range of users within and outside of government. Yet, governments and domestic stakeholders have received little to no guidance toward implementing these shared goals. In this paper we have developed and piloted a methodology to address this gap, enabling key stakeholders and policymakers to assess and improve the openness of datasets most relevant for climate action in their given country context.
This paper aims to promote greater accessibility of climate-related data by building government officials’ and other stakeholders’ understanding of the benefits of open data principles and practices, the challenges they may encounter in implementing them, and ways to address these challenges while taking steps to ensure that data publication is impactful, responsible, and sustainable. It primarily addresses national government authorities responsible for climate policymaking and implementation, as well as those responsible for digital government strategies, data management, and knowledge production. Civil society organizations working on climate change action are a secondary audience for this paper and can use the insights provided to better advocate for and support data publication processes.
Research for this paper was conducted in collaboration with the Open Data Charter and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This included the development of a draft guide and typology for opening up climate-related data, which was piloted with government and civil society partners in Chile and Uruguay between August 2019 and August 2020. This publication gathers insights from a literature review, iterative consultations with experts and implementers of open data initiatives, and the pilot projects in these two countries.
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